Who hasn’t had those days when the children we live or work with, at whatever age, just seem to bounce from one drama to another? They start the day in a bad mood, get irritated over the smallest thing, then there are tears over literally anything… It’s already not a good day, and so it continues until it ends.

And it’s not a good day; for you or them! Why do these episodes even happen, when they go on for hours – maybe even days – and don’t bring anyone any joy, least of all the child themselves…

These frustrating moments are often the nemesis to our ‘peaceful parenting’ or ‘child-centred’ intentions, and our children can be very hard to empathise with.

The world is full of war and worry, and so we don’t necessarily feel like comforting a kid who’s reacting to a light bump to the finger as though it’s been chopped off, or whose genuine complaint about life is that we can’t magic up their favourite cereal out of thin air.

In the spirit of staying sane, and being the parent/teacher/guide/other grown-up you want your child or children to remember you as, there are a few insights that can help us find our empathy, and respond more effectively.

Take note for yourself as well, because when you’re having your own “It’s not a bad day, it’s a bad life!” moment, everything here is also true about you!

One of the simplest metaphors to understand what’s happening is like a ‘traffic light in the brain’. (It’s also an easy way to explain it to your kids.)

A balanced brain is the green light; regulated, receptive, rational, self-aware, etc.

The emotional hijack is the red light; overwhelm, little or no logic thinking or reasoning skills…

But what about the amber light? That’s where our kids (and us) tend to be functioning far more often than we realise.

The red light; AKA the Fight/Flight/Freeze response; results in a surge of stressor hormones, and they don’t flush out of the body in a hurry. So, if a child’s had some kind of meltdown, their brain biochemistry may not come back to ‘baseline’ for 24-48 hours.

But even a little stress can keep adrenaline elevated, meaning child (or adult) is unwittingly dancing very close to the F/F/F response.
The outwards behaviour may look ‘green’ but, because the amygdala; the organ which fires it up; belongs in the ‘unconscious brain’, ‘I feel stress’ probably hasn’t even registered.

The amber light is actually on, and the amygdala; like our ‘inner zebra’; is primed for threat.
So, one small trigger is all it takes is to press the panic button. Cue the next burst of adrenaline, and here we go again!

It’s irrelevant that this response is completely disproportionate; in survival mode, there isn’t time to waste on fact-checking.

So the next time this 👆 happens to your kids, just remember; it’s not about you, it’s not even really about them.
It’s just the very blunt instrument that is the mammalian brain – which hasn’t evolved since neanderthal times – and its biochemistry,  doing its best to navigate life in the 21st century.

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